Seventy-one percent of last year’s college graduates were in debt with an average of $29,400 in student loans per borrower, reports the Project on College Debt. The debt load increased by 10.5 percent from the year before, according to Student Debt and the Class of 2012.
Graduates will have trouble paying back their loans: 18.3 percent of young college graduates are unemployed or working fewer hours than they wish. However, low earners can qualify for income-based repayment, which links repayment to earnings, and Pay As You Earn, which forgives unpaid debt in 20 years rather than 25.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans worry about college costs, according to a Bellevue University survey. Fifty-five percent said they’d pursue a degree if it wouldn’t put them into debt; 40 percent said obtaining more education is worth taking on more debt.
In another survey, 42 percent of young people blame colleges and universities for rising student debt and 30 percent blame the federal government.
Solar energy is helping community colleges control utility costs, reports Daily Finance. SunPower has installed 20 megawatts of solar panels at a dozen community colleges in California. The schools expect to save $5.4 million per year.
College of the Desert‘s solar panels — on top of carports – will generate about two-thirds of the school’s total electricity needs. Savings will be used to fund academic programs.
The college collaborated with First Solar and Palo Verde Community College on the Desert Sunlight Solar Project. In addition to donating equipment, First Solar provided training and curricula.
Mercer County Community College in New Jersey hopes its solar system will supply 70 percent of the college’s energy needs and save it $775,000 annually.
According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, there are now more than 541 solar installations on 322 college campuses spread across 45 states.
“Stopping out” — taking a semester or more off — is very common for Texas community college students, according to a new study, reports USA Today. Ninety-four percent of community college students who first enrolled in 2000 stopped out at least once, Toby Park, a Florida State professor, found.
Of students who completed a degree, 76 percent were one-time stopouts. Taking two or more breaks sharply cut the odds of completion.
Mentoring and personal relationships were what kept Tim Semonich, now a junior at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., enrolled at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem on his second try.
Semonich dropped out his first semester, thinking that college wasn’t for him. After working for two years, he decided to give college a second chance.
“The second time, I put more effort in and made connections with professors and deans,” Semonich says.
The more he got involved with school activities, such as speech team and student government, the more he enjoyed it. Semonich later went on to earn a full scholarship to Moravian.
Taxpayers spent nearly $4 billion from 2004 to 2009 on community college students who dropped out after their first year, reports USA Today.
Celeste Brewer stopped out of the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College (Florida). ”If I was offered work, then I would skip class because I had to pay my bills,” she says. She got a third chance at Miami Dade College, where she’s close to a degree in aviation administration.
After one year at the University of California, Michelle Willens stopped out. Forty years later, she’s working on a bachelor’s degree. In The Atlantic, she writes about what it’s like to be a middle-aged college student.
Collegebound students must dream the affordable dream, writes Michael Alcorn in the Arvada (Colorado) News. A music and fitness instructor, he’s the father of three children, including a daughter in 12th grade who wants to study nursing.
Me, the “life coach” parent, wants her to dream as big as the sky and the stars. . . .
Me, the “teacher” parent, really believes in education and higher education and the value of learning for learning’s sake . . .
But me, the “financial advisor” parent, looks at the average of $26,000 student loan debt for graduates, looks at one in three college graduates living in their parents’ basements, looks at 45-percent dropout rates and 40-percent graduate underemployment . . . This part of me loves the idea of two years of community college to get the general ed. out of the way, transferring all those credits to the great, local private university with the great nursing program, and finding a way to get her into life without crippling debt.
Only 20 percent of jobs require bachelor’s degrees, according to the Department of Labor, writes Alcorn. About 30 percent of adults are college graduates. “One hundred percent of high school students in any suburban school are told . . . they’re a failure if they don’t go to college.”
The three parents in his head keep arguing, but the one who says “debt be damned!” probably isn’t going to win, he concludes.
Marcus Carmicle trained to be a nursing aide and then a licensed practical nurse at Bluegrass Technical College in Kentucky. After 19 years as an LPN, he’s finally completing a nursing degree. The competency-based online program at Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges is making it possible to achieve his goal.
Meeting Students Where They Are profiles students in competency-based degree programs. Students say competency programs are demanding, according to the report by the Center for American Progress and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. Partial mastery isn’t good enough. Nobody squeaks by with a C.
Students said the competencies they learned apply directly to their work. Competency is “what employers look for, not how many hours you sit in a classroom,” said one student.
Adult students value the flexibility, the report says. “I wouldn’t have gone back to school if I had to give up my job,” said an MBA student. “I was only willing to go into so much debt.”
Student said they needed a degree to advance in their jobs. For example, a nurse with an associate degree needed a bachelor’s to be promoted.
Students value the chance to interact with classmates, the report finds. Predominantly online programs don’t offer that opportunity. Coaches, advisors and mentors also play an important role.
Financial aid should be available for students in competency-based programs, CAP and CAEL advocate. The next version of the Higher Education Act should identify ways to measure student progress other than by the credit hour.
“Competency-based education is spreading among community colleges” with help from Western Governors University, reports Inside Higher Ed. WGU “has helped 11 community colleges create their own competency-based degrees and certificates, mostly in information technology tracks” in the last year. The Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Labor have provided start-up funding.
Without federal student aid — loans, Pell Grants, tax credits — higher education would cost less and be less elitist, said economist Richard Vedder in a Nov. 15 speech in San Diego. While fewer people would enroll in college, those who do would be more likely to earn a degree and less likely to end up as sales clerks and bartenders. Colleges would hire fewer administrators.
Vedder recommends seven steps he thinks are “politically feasible.”
First, return the program to its roots: helping poor persons attend college. Right now, over 17 percent of students from families with incomes from $60,000 to $80,000 a year get Pell Grants—these individuals have above median incomes. Over a few years we should tighten eligibility significantly, reducing the number of Pell recipients by perhaps 50 percent. Similarly, PLUS loans to parents of high income kids should end. Tuition tax credits benefit families whose kids would go to college in the absence of the credit, mostly from above average incomes. Go to a single grant program and a single loan program.
Second, impose academic performance standards to continue receiving grants. Reward students who graduate in less than four years, and cut off aid for, say, students who are in their sixth year of full-time attendance.
Third, he’d get the federal government out of student loans and let private lenders “strengthen the tie between interest rates charged students and market rates.”
Fourth, make participating colleges have some skin in the game. If colleges accept students and promise them Pell grants or guaranteed loans, make them share in the burden of high levels of defaults on loans, or the failure associated with Pell recipients not graduating. This would lead to a needed reduction in lending to persons who lack the aptitude, background, or discipline for college level learning.
Fifth, he’d gear federal aid to the cost of a basic college education from a relatively low cost state university. Increases would be linked to the inflation rate to discourage colleges from raising tuition to capture increased aid.
In step six, Pell Grants would become a voucher for very low-income students tied to academic progress. “Top students could be paid extra for superior academic performance,” Vedder suggests.
Finally, he’d “encourage private investors to begin human capital equity funds.” Investors would pay college costs in return for a portion of the graduate’s future earnings for a set time period, Vedder writes. “A graduate from M.I.T. majoring in electrical engineering might have to pay 8 percent of his income for 12 years, while a graduate in anthropology from Central Michigan University might have to pay 15 percent for 20 years.” These market signals would be useful for students.
Directing aid to low-income students — and away from the middle class — doesn’t sound all that politically feasible to me. Setting performance standards also would generate a lot of resistance.
Community college funding is recovering, but two-year college systems remain under stress in many states, according a new survey, Halfway Out of Recession But A Long Way to Go. The Education Policy Center of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa surveys community college directors annually.
Only directors in five states — Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana and Wyoming — reported mid-year budget cuts in 2012-13. In 2008-9, two-thirds of states were reporting such cuts.
Looking ahead, most state directors are predicting increases for this year for community colleges, with the average increase projected to be 4 percent. Only five states — Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia — are projecting decreases in 2013-14.
The state directors report considerable worry about the ability of students to pay for college. Most states are projecting tuition increases, and a majority expect state student aid programs to either be cut or to increase at less than the rate of inflation for higher education.
Many directors expect rising enrollments as four-year institutions impose enrollment caps.
California’s very low community college fees could be going up, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Fees are only $1,380 a year — less than half the national average — and at least 40 percent of California students don’t pay anything.
The 112-college system’s governing board is limiting generous fee waivers. Currently, a student from a family of four earning up to $90,000 would qualify.
The board is considering requiring students with fee waivers to maintain at least a C-average over two consecutive terms and to show adequate progress by taking at least half of their courses for credit.
Under the change, which exempts the disadvantaged and would take effect in Fall 2016, as many as 48,479 recipients could lose their fee waivers, said Linda Michalowski, vice chancellor for student services and special programs.
“For a student to enroll and do poorly academically, drop out, come back and do poorly, that does not correlate with student success, yet our policy on the fee waiver has said it doesn’t matter; you can fail and fail and fail and come back and we will support you again,” Michalowski said. “That doesn’t benefit anybody.”
Many say the shift doesn’t go far enough. Community college students still can’t get the courses they need, says Steve Boilard, who directs the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State.
As state funding declined by $1.5 billion over four years, lawmakers raised fees three times, to the current price of $46 per unit. But nearly all the anticipated revenue was eaten up by the waivers and colleges ended up cutting courses and enrollment anyway, said Boilard, who thinks the state needs to look hard at further restricting waivers and substantially raising the admission price.
“The community college system is supposed to be affordable for all, but we have shot ourselves in the foot by trying to achieve that through low tuition,” he said.
“There is a lot of room to raise more revenue and still be below the national average in terms of fees,” said Long Beach City College President-Chancellor Elroy Oakley. If the fees were higher, students could still access federal aid and “would be paying nothing more, and then that money would be going back into the institutions, which is, frankly, what 49 other states in the nation do,” he said.
“We are turning people away from college who want to come,” said Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education President David Longanecker. “What we have now is a low-cost pricing scheme that is starving the system and doesn’t make sense in the 21st Century.”
The “overeducated American” is a “myth,” states a new College Summit report. Workplace demand for college graduates is rising, according to Smart Shoppers: The End of the ‘College for All’ Debate? College graduates earn 80 percent more than high school graduates, the report estimates. Even in jobs that don’t require a degree, more-educated workers earn significantly more.
However, returns on the college investment have been exaggerated, concludes another new report, which focuses on higher education in California. The Economics of B.A. Ambivalence notes that most students take more than four years to complete a bachelor’s degree. In addition, some earn much less than others.
When the California Master Plan for Higher Education was enacted, in 1960, only 10 percent of Californians had a college degree, and the earnings gap between degree holders and non-degree holders was 35 percent. In 2010, they say, that earnings premium was 43 percent—higher than in the past, but still half the figure cited in the College Summit report. But, the researchers point out, the wage gap is higher now not because wages for college-degree holders have gone up, but because wages for people with only a high-school degree have gone down.
Graduating with burdensome debt is a higher risk, the researchers write.
College remains a good investment for the average California student and for American society. Nevertheless, it is true that more graduates now run the risk of not earning enough to make their investment in college worthwhile. This reality explains why many families of ordinary means are increasingly skeptical about paying for college.
“College is a ‘steppingstone’ to the middle class—not a ticket,” the authors warn. “It deserves the scrutiny an individual would give to any risky investment.”
They recommend better advising and more loan-repayment options.
Adults who’ve left school without a degree ask: Is College Worth It for Me? But few look at graduation and default rates when they choose a postsecondary option, reports Public Agenda. And many don’t understand that for-profit higher education will be more expensive.
While whites are skeptical about a college degree’s value, Latinos and blacks believe higher education is essential, writes Ronald Brownstein. The divergence shows up in a new College Board/National Journal Next America Poll.
Jason Parkinson, a 29-year-old electrician from Cleveland, doesn’t consider it much of a handicap that he never obtained a four-year college degree after high school. “It doesn’t do any good anymore,” he says. “You get a four-year degree, you work at a fast-food restaurant. You can go to trades and manufacturing…. I’m not big on going to college for a career that might not even be there in 10 years.”
Jose Stathas, a 47-year-old assistant to the owner at a pottery company in Buena Park, Calif., didn’t finish college either, but he believes he would be better off if he had. “I don’t have a four-year degree, and I’ve learned the hard way that it can affect how much you make,” he says. “It gives you opportunities to get jobs in the competitive marketplace we have now.”
Parkinson is white. Stathas is Hispanic.
“While minorities worry more than whites about affording the cost of higher education, they are more likely to see a payoff from the investment,” writes Brownstein.
Most Latinos, blacks and Asian-Americans said “young people today need a four-year college degree in order to be successful.” Slightly fewer than half of whites agreed.
Minorities were also far more likely than whites to say the economy would benefit if the United States meets President Obama’s goal of increasing by half the share of Americans with postsecondary degrees through 2020. “The higher the education mark, the more competitive we’re going to be in the world economy,” Stathas said. “There’s a lot of talk of the rise and fall of the U.S. Unless we step it up a notch, there are going to be parts of the world that eat our lunch.”
Minorities are more likely than whites to support spending more to improve the availability and affordability of higher education. ”Whites and Asians were far more likely than Hispanics and African-Americans to argue that the best way to control mounting student-loan debt is for colleges to hold down costs, rather than for government to provide greater financial assistance,” Brownstein reports.